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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
Just what is it with the design industry's current fascination with glamour? A few recent events, products and exhibitions have provided a creative micro-spike that could be variously interpreted as the emergence of new baroque, the bankruptcy of the old order or just more evidence of fashion's fickle trajectory. For a start, there was James Dyson's broadside against London's Design Museum, accused of favouring 'style over substance.' See 'How a flower arrangement caused fear and loathing' (any amount of money says that the 'close observer' quoted in Sudjic's piece is either Conran or Sudjic himself). The 'row' has even spilled over into the US press (Washington Post Article).

There's also the new SF MOMA show Glamour: Fashion, Industrial Design, Architecture (rather simplistic summary here by Ulf Meyer at the SF Gate website), which attempts to reposition ('re-brand', even) the high modernist works of the post-war period as monuments to high glamour and not creative dead-ends , while linking them explicity to contemporary high-end luxury products. Thinking back, you can also lump in Habitat's slightly daft VIP range (Very Important Products) - see our previous post.

So what, if anything, does all this mean? The resurgence of decoration in 'progressive' design circles can't be overlooked. Meyer cites the arrival of a "new digital glamour", which, roughly translated, is the application of very contemporary processes (such as laser cutting) to products that might not necessarily have been conceived if these technologies didn't exist (think of the cascading lamp shades of Tord Boontje, for example). It's natural for an industry to want to chronicle progress as it happens, and 'new digital glamour' is just one way of describing our 're-enlightened' era, an age of confluence between arts and technology, of more pluralism in taste and less stylistic dogma.

On one level, putting on shows or selling projects that overtly emphasise 'glamour' and 'celebrity' can seem like an exercise in self-justification for its proponents, just as MoMA's 1934 Machine Art exhibition was essentially a propoganda exercise to promote abstraction and the 'superiority' of such apparent simplicity (see Michael Bierut's 'To Hell with the Simple Paper Clip' at Design Observer for a critique of the anonymous object as the 'everyday sublime'). It's an example of contemporary culture in action, broad brush trend-watching; how fashions seep into the mainstream, blossom and die.

At the same time, the pluralist tastes espoused by the 'new digital design' is perhaps a frightening new reality for the die-hard critics of ostentation, those who believe that decoration can never be 'right.' Dyson is one of these old-school Modernists (capital 'M'), descendants of those who took Adolf Loos' (deliberately provocative) tenet that 'ornament and crime' were synonymous at face value.

Perhaps it's a last stand. Modernism's Old Guard thought they had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat after Post-Modernism's assault in the 80s and 90s. This assault was thoroughly usurped by the rise of 'designerism', the cult of the hard-edged object and an apparent modernist revival. Think Apple, Audi, Sony, Prada, any number of 'name brands' for whom 'modern design' became an integral part of their corporate ethic. Or so everyone thought. In retrospect, this revival appears more consumer-centric than ideologically led, as evinced by this creeping baroque revival symbolised by the above products and exhibitions. For a generation that learned to equate ornament with a degeneracy of taste, Glamour, VIP, exhibitions of shoes and cabbage posies must seem like the debasement of all they hold dear.

*


Elsewhere. Yorkpete goes to Willow Road / Gaudi-esque shopfront flaunts UK planning law / Irdial's The Conet Project (Recordings of Shortwave Numbers Stations) is now available for download at archive.org. Is this a response to the Wilco-related lawsuit? / Aifol.net - all is full of love - which has a great blog.

Art galleries are ramping up their online presence. Impressive sites to look around: Gorney Bravin + Lee (especially James Welling's Los Angeles series) and the Gandy Gallery, with David Dodge's 'Last Wash' / flux+mutability, 'stray notes on photography / notas dispersas sobre fotografia' / autospies / the internet as wunderkammer. Don't we just know it.